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On the worth of biblical interpretation

(Picture: Unsplash/Tim Wildsmith)

On Shabbat October 1st, all our autumnal Jewish festivals can be over and we begin originally once more with the story of Genesis and the creation of the world.

We completed on the earlier Shabbat with a studying from Kohelet (which means ‘ingathering’), identified in English as Ecclesiastes.

For the final 20 months, most of us have been hunkering down, terrified of the plague that has affected each area of the world. Globally, round 5 million have died from Covid, and in some areas, this plague reveals no signal of going away.

Throughout this time, the State of Israel has been watched like a hawk, as she took the initiative in ordering doses, jabbing and not too long ago giving a 3rd dose to her inhabitants of practically 10 million individuals.

And now, the brand new Prime Minister of Israel, whose immigrant father grew to become an property agent in Haifa, has simply addressed the Normal Meeting of the United Nations – and his foremost warning was about Iran and its recently-elected President, identified domestically as ‘the Butcher of Tehran’.

Regardless of misery, doldrums and even loss of life, Israel has refused to capitulate to whole despair, and has insisted on having fun with the ultimate autumn pageant which comes simply earlier than we begin once more, and that’s the pageant of Simchat Torah – ‘the enjoyment of the legislation’ – a very loopy vacation, when Jews get drunk, and dance round Shul as in the event that they did not have a care on this planet. If solely ….

This yr, extra even than another yr, I could not assist noticing in our personal space of Broughton Park, Salford, the rise in numbers of people that wish to convert to the Jewish faith, coming from all elements of the globe, and spanning an enormous number of ethnicities and spiritual backgrounds, all wanting to affix in with the Jewish household – absolutely essentially the most tough factor on this planet!

The topic-matter of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) is becoming for these mellow instances of autumn, accompanied by falling leaves, to not point out gales, downpours – and, in lots of circumstances, an entire sweeping away of the previous.

Kohelet is a considerate Ebook of the Bible, however upbeat, all the identical. For it states that there’s ‘nothing new below the solar’, the solar being the Torah, which does certainly present continually new insights.

However, despite the fact that there could also be ‘nothing new below the solar’, that does not imply that on a regular basis life and studying are pointless and futile. Fairly the opposite, in reality.

Let me clarify this seeming paradox of there being ‘nothing new’ with an instance from my very own life. Once I was younger, I studied Music for GCSE ‘O’ Stage. In these days, Music was a really tough and complicated topic, necessitating intimate information of the technical aspect of two classical items – Mozart’s Symphony no. 40 in G minor, and Dvorak’s New World Symphony.

Studying issues by rote actually helped. As a result of now, each time I hear a efficiency of those two masterpieces of composition, I recall, as well as, these days of way back, when my expensive mom, to whom musical notation did not imply a factor, would check me time and time once more, after which ended up studying to play the piano herself!

The miracle is that there are solely 12 notes: the items we hear are merely a mix of those 12 notes – however the potentialities for these 12 notes of their number of combos are nearly infinitesimal.

That is how we’re supposed to treat G-d’s creation, which comes up once more on October 1, beginning because it does, not with the primary letter of the Hebrew alphabet, however with the letter Wager, the second letter, which opens up in entrance, as if to welcome everybody inside. And never for nothing does the letter Wager additionally signify the idea of ‘dwelling’, that place the place you’re all the time welcome.

Sure, language ought to all the time be understood in its correct context. ‘Nothing new below the solar’ does not must imply despair – it must imply ‘potentialities’.

At all times look to the query being requested and the state of affairs which is intervening. From the Jewish perspective, the Bible is not a timeless rulebook for each state of affairs. At most we regard it as a set of very unfastened rules – however you could examine to know even these rules. That’s the reason we imagine that interpretation is on a par with the written textual content itself, and encourage pleasant dispute, disagreement and listening to the opposite particular person’s standpoint.

The Jewish strategy is to not search for simple formulae of prohibition, for example (for instance on abortion, or euthanasia, – topics I’ve taught in quite a lot of colleges), however clear rules (do not take life – however generally you must prioritize in excessive circumstances).

This seems to be an issue with standard Protestant spiritual morality – both you are taking the textual content strictly, actually and normally in translation (all frowned upon in Jewish educating), otherwise you assume that ‘something goes’ if it is loving! Once more, far too simplistic. Was Florence Nightingale touchy-feely within the Crimean wards? I do not assume so!

However that is the issue with those that do not actually imagine that there’s a custom of what is perhaps referred to as ‘impressed case legislation’ in Christian educating – the accrued knowledge of interpretation, simply as we’ve got in Judaism, the place we observe halakhah, or oral educating made express in context.

A great instance of fallacious use of language on this regard is using the time period ‘apartheid’ with a purpose to ‘bash’ the State of Israel (direct antisemitism being much less potential for seasoned anti-Semites than it was once). ‘Apartheid’ is in precise reality the exact terminology for a system based mostly on express theories of racial superiority and whole non-participation.

Israel, however, is made up of individuals from all around the world, from greater than 100 international locations, and talking greater than 100 native languages, all of whom are welcome and anticipated to take part as quickly as they contact down at Ben Gurion airport. Which different nation can say as a lot?

And that’s how, as I simply watched the son of my buddy, the property agent from Haifa, thanking the USA for not permitting the hatred of a bit of that nation to allow the destruction of the Jewish State, I noticed that Israel is definitely the alternative of the ‘apartheid’ system of which she is so typically falsely accused (simply the most recent in a protracted historical past of blood libels in opposition to the Jewish individuals).

So, as we begin once more on the upcoming Shabbat with the biblical phrases ‘At first’, a phrase that has lent itself to extra interpretations in its lengthy life than another, let’s not demean this well-used Ebook. Let’s not take it actually in vernacular, each time it fits us, whereas dismissing out of hand all these bits we do not like.

Why do not we for a change undertake the extra modest strategy of making an attempt to study, to know, to interpret and to dwell it, all the time in context. For because the well-known Hillel mentioned in response to a Roman centurion: ‘The Torah is all about loving your neighbour – now go and study!’

So possibly, likewise, this New Jewish 12 months decision is perhaps ‘ …. Now go and study!’

Dr Irene Lancaster is a Jewish tutorial, writer and translator who has established college programs on Jewish historical past, Jewish research and the Hebrew Bible. She educated as a trainer in trendy Languages and Spiritual Training.

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